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Traders with Swiss links continue to buy and sell Russian oil

The Vitol headquarters in Geneva
Commodity trading giant Vitol, with headquarters in Geneva (above), is a shareholder of Amur Trading, which data shows has increased its volumes of Russian oil since the Ukraine war began. © Keystone / Martial Trezzini

Around 20 traders have reportedly increased their shipments of Russian oil since the war in Ukraine broke out. A third of these players have strong connections to Geneva, according to the newspaper Le Matin Dimanche.

While the major Swiss-based commodity traders – Trafigura, Glencore, Mercuria and Vitol – have decreased their volumes of Russian oil since the invasion of Ukraine began in late February, some companies that do business through Switzerland have increased their shipments.

They include the Russian oil giant Lukoil, which sells most of its oil in Geneva via its subsidiary Litasco, and two unknown companies in Hong Kong, Bellatrix and Livna. Part of the Russia-China trade is reportedly channelled through a Swiss firm, Paramount Energy. The latter increased its volumes of Russian oil by around 65,000 barrels a day between February and the end of May – for a potential worth of some $5 million a day (CHF4.8 million).

These conclusions are based on data collected from ports and port agents as well as from tracking tanker movements around Russian oil ports. The information was shared with Le Matin DimancheExternal link by a specialized Swiss company that requested anonymity.

“This data shows that at a time when the big players are withdrawing from the Russian oil market, some clever little guys – some opportunists – are slipping though the gaps,” commodities trading expert Jean-François Lambert told the newspaper.

Legal activity

Another Geneva-based player, Amur Trading, allegedly increased its shipments of Russian oil by some 18,000 barrels a day between February and May. This company is backed by oil trading giant Vitol, also based in Geneva. This spring Vitol pledged to stop trading in Russian oil by the end of the year. The document seen by the newspaper confirms that its volumes have decreased by some 200,000 barrels a day since February. At the same time, Amur Trading’s volumes have increased, albeit to a lesser extent.

When reached by the newspaper, Vitol said it is a shareholder in Amur Trading. But the firm says its promise to stop Russian oil still stands and that it anticipates an end to all its Russian oil activity by the end of 2022.

Two other companies with strong connections to Switzerland, Cetracore and Mercantile & Maritime, both increased their Russian oil volumes by around 10,000 barrels a day between February and the end of May, the data reportedly shows.

For now, this activity remains legal. European Union sanctions on Russian oil adopted by the Swiss government earlier this month foresees an embargo on all Russian crude oil delivered by sea to Europe from early December. A ban on all Russian refined oil products would follow two months later. Russia supplies 27% of the EU’s imported oil but only 0.3% of Swiss imports of crude oil.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR